For four years, Linda Wyman has tried and failed to equip her community hub with a lifesaving device.
That recently changed on Valentine’s Day when the president of the Greely and District branch 627 of the Royal Canadian Legion was presented with an automatic external defibrillator, a device that delivers a shock via electrical current and which can restart the heart to about 80 per cent efficiency.
The branch is one of 14 across the city, and one of eight that is not equipped with the heart-restarting devices.
Because of that gap, the city is now planning to install an AED in each, and provide free half-day CPR and AED training for Legion and community members. The price tag for each $1,600 device will be covered by the city.
“This is the perfect population,” said Anthony Di Monte, who recently became general manager of the city’s emergency and protective services department. He most recently was the chief of Ottawa Paramedic Services, and also serves as an honourary military colonel with a local field hospital unit.
“They’re retired members of the Forces,” he said of Legion members. “They’re in those ages that cardiac arrest is a distinct possibility.”
AEDs can buy paramedics valuable minutes, particularly if a Legion branch is in a rural location not easily accessible, where distance may be a factor, and made worse by traffic issues and weather problems.
“This population is very vulnerable,” said Osgoode Coun. George Darouze. “It’s in the middle of nowhere.”
The closest AED is at the Greely Community Centre, about one-and-a-half kilometres away.
“Every minute counts,” Darouze said. “In rural Ottawa, let’s be realistic, we have a delay of ambulances and every minute we can save a life that’s perfect for us.”
“These apparatus save lives in the first minutes and allow us the time to arrive at scene and continue the more advanced skills that we do, like drugs and medication,” said Di Monte said, adding that if the AED shock can be delivered within the first four to six minutes of the cardiac arrest, the patient’s chances of survival skyrocket.
In 2001, the City of Ottawa began installing more than 1,000 defibrillators in public spaces, such as recreation centres, pools, arenas and libraries. In that time, more than 40,000 residents, plus city staff, have been trained in AED and CPR. The emergence of advanced-care paramedics, who can deliver care that otherwise can only be provided by a provincially certified physician, has also helped.
“It’s one of the highest-per-capita ratios in Canada and our cardiac arrest survival in Ottawa … we’re in the top five of North America right now because of this entire program,” Di Monte said, noting that before this program, the city had fallen “way behind.”
It was Darouze who alerted city staff about the lack of AED equipment in Legion branches. He said he was shocked when Wyman told him she’d been trying to secure one for four years. And last November he learned that the Osgoode branch also didn’t have one, a situation that has since been reversed.
“This was really an awakening for me,” said Darouze, who is also a member of the Greely Legion.
He recently learned from Nepean-Carleton MPP Lisa MacLeod that a man suffered a heart attack at the Barrhaven Legion branch two years ago.
“This small device … it saved his life,” Darouze said during the recent announcement. “Two years after he is still here with us.”
Wyman, who tried for years to acquire an AED through various organizations and levels of government without success, said Legions are often community hubs, and halls are rented out for events that can draw several hundred people. The AED would not only potentially help Legion members, but also anyone in the community.
“We have a lot of rentals here because of the large facility,” Wyman said, adding that in recent weeks more than 800 people came through the Greely Legion building for a weekend snowmobile club swap meet.
“You never know when something could happen.”
Ottawa-area Legion branches that will soon receive an AED include:
• Branch 632 in Orléans,
• 351 in Centretown,
• 480 in Westboro,
• 595 in Heron Park,
• 641 in Barrhaven,
• 638 in north Kanata, and
• 616 in Constance Bay
DID YOU KNOW?
• When you call 911 about a cardiac arrest, the communications team can look up your location and tell you where the AED is in the building, if there is one. They will also walk you through the steps of CPR and using the defibrillator, even if you have little or no experience, Di Monte said.